International trade in goods: composition and geography
This chapter deals with the composition and geographical dimension of the Dutch goods trade. What did the trade portfolio of the Netherlands look like in 2021? Which goods saw falls in imports and exports and which experienced rises, compared with previous years? What are the main countries of origin and destination for Dutch trade in goods? How important is the Netherlands for the goods trade of all other countries in the world? How is the Dutch market share in global trade developing? In this chapter, we answer these and other questions by analysing the composition and geographical dimension of Dutch goods exports and imports.
This chapter considers both the composition and geographical dimension of the Dutch goods trade. In sections 3.2 to 3.4, we look at these from a Dutch perspective. In section 3.2, we describe the key developments (in terms of value and volume) of the Dutch trade in goods, based on quarterly CBS figures. We also describe the importance of Europe, East Asia and North America for the Dutch goods trade. Dutch exports of goods are discussed in more detail in section 3.3. What is the composition of Dutch exports? Which countries are major destinations for Dutch goods exports?
Section 3.4 gives details on Dutch goods imports. In sections 3.5 to 3.7, the roles are reversed and we look at the Dutch goods trade from the perspective of the rest of the world, using CEPII data.noot1 In section 3.5, we consider the relative export performance of Dutch goods traders, based on a Constant Market Share analysis. The importance of the Netherlands as a supplier of goods to other countries is addressed in section 3.6, and section 3.7 looks at its importance as a customer. The data and methods used in this chapter are discussed in section 3.8.
Goods trade in 2021 higher than in 2019
Dutch imports and exports of goods were higher than ever in 2021. Partly as a result of a strong economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis, goods exports totalled close to €587 billion, up by 13.8% from 2019, the last pre-COVID year. The value of imports was nearly €527 billion in 2021, up 14.5% compared to 2019. This strong growth was specifically due to high prices: export volume in 2021 was 6.6% higher than in 2019, and import volume rose by 5.7% between 2019 and 2021.
Machinery and equipment was the largest product category for exports in 2021, and the export value in this category increased by 10.5% compared to 2019. Growth in exports of chemical products was most significant, exceeding 26% between 2019 and 2021. Germany, Belgium and France are the main destinations for goods exports from the Netherlands. Export growth to Poland and South Korea was remarkably high at almost 37% (Poland) and almost 97% (South Korea) between 2019 and 2021. The bulk (56.0%) of goods exported from the Netherlands are domestic goods, while the rest are re-exports. The share of re-exports is relatively large in machinery and equipment, and manufactured goods. Relatively large amounts worth of re-exports go to nearby countries – Germany, Belgium and France – while many domestic goods are exported to the UK and the US.
In more detail, petroleum and petroleum products were the most important export goods for the Netherlands in 2021. Other key export goods are natural gas, specialised machinery, fruit and vegetables, chips and semiconductors, and flowers and plants. The export values of all these goods also grew between 2019 and 2021.
Machinery and equipment was also the most important product category for imports. Its share of 24.7% was just slightly larger than that of manufactured goods (24.2% of total import value). In all product categories, imports were higher in 2021 than in 2019, with the exception of transport equipment, where there was in particular a decline in the value of passenger car imports.
Most imports come from Germany, followed by China and Belgium as the largest suppliers of Dutch imports. The growth in imports from China was above average between 2019 and 2021, up by more than 24%, but imports from other important origin countries – Germany (+17.4%) and Belgium (+15.1%) – also grew rapidly. The list of the top 5 countries supplying import goods to the Netherlands is completed by the US and the UK, but the import values from these countries grew less quickly, at 7.5% for the US and 6.5% for the UK.
Petroleum and petroleum products are not only key export goods, but also the most significant import goods for the Netherlands. Both petroleum and gas prices rose sharply, causing these product groups to increase in value and importance among Dutch imports. The import values of chips and semiconductors, computers, laptops and tablets, and clothing also increased between 2019 and 2021. In contrast, the import value of cars declined in that period.
Importance of the Netherlands in global exports and imports
The share of Dutch goods exports in global exports has been fairly stable since 1970. In 2020, the Netherlands accounted for 3.3% of global exports. Since 1970, the share in total global trade of many other countries, such as Germany, has declined more rapidly than that of the Netherlands. The Netherlands was the fifth-largest exporting country in 2020, behind China, Germany, the US and Japan. Globally, the Netherlands was the seventh-largest importer in 2020, and it was in fourth place in the group of European countries. In 2020, the Netherlands accounted for 2.8% of global imports. In relation to 1970, the Netherlands has seen its share in global imports contract.
Relative export performance of the Netherlands as a goods trader
Dutch goods exports generally followed patterns in global trade in the period 1970–2020, but cumulative growth lagged behind that of global exports. This does not mean that the Netherlands performed relatively poorly in this period. The Netherlands has long been an established trading nation. The fact that the development of Dutch exports has followed global exports very closely, despite the emergence of a number of major players such as China, means that the Netherlands maintained its position as a prominent trading nation during the period 1970–2020.
In recent years, and since 2016 in particular, the Netherlands has actually managed to expand its share in global trade. Dutch exports therefore seem to be strongly bucking the global trend of slowing growth in global trade. Although the reasons for this remain unknown, the figures show that the relatively good performance of Dutch exports stems not so much from changes in the structure of exports, but mainly from the fact that the Netherlands is active in markets with above-average growth. Germany, and to a lesser extent the UK, Belgium, China and the US, were decisive for the relative growth of Dutch trade from 2020 onwards.
How important is the Netherlands to other countries as a trading partner?
The Dutch share in Belgian goods imports was 18.5% in 2020, making Belgium the country that is most dependent on goods originating from the Netherlands. For both Sweden and Germany, the Netherlands is the second most important supplier of goods. But it is also well positioned as an importer of goods from many countries. Examples are Belgium, Ivory Coast, Norway, Finland, Germany and the UK. In 2020, 13.5% of all Belgian goods exports were destined for the Netherlands. This made the Netherlands the third-largest market for Belgium. Iceland and Cameroon are also very dependent on the Netherlands as an importer.
3.2Key developments in the Dutch goods trade in 2021
Goods exports back above pre-COVID level in 2021
The Dutch goods trade achieved unprecedentedly high import and export values in 2021. Thanks in part to a sharp rise in output pricesnoot2, exports peaked at almost €587 billion.noot3 This was 21.5% more than in 2020. The value of goods exported in 2021 was 13.8% higher than in 2019 (€71.3 billion), when the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet broken out. The coronavirus crisis began in China in the first months of 2020. A lockdown was imposed in the country, which brought production chains to a standstill for several weeks. As the COVID-19 pandemic proceeded to take hold in Europe, production chains there also had to be partially or completely halted for an unspecified time. During the initial phase of the pandemic, there was reduced demand for goods and components. Because production chains were disrupted by lockdowns and container shortages, among other problems, products were not available or arrived late. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, demand for petroleum and petroleum products dropped and there was disagreement among the oil-producing countries, leading to overcapacity in oil, after which prices plummeted on the world market (RTL News, 2020). At the end of 2020, industry and the goods trade slowly recovered and Q4 of the year closed with modest growth in export volume compared to the same quarter of 2019 (Figure 3.2.1). In euro terms, however, exports were still lower than in the corresponding quarter of 2019, solely due to lower export prices. For the whole of 2020, the volume of exports was 2.1% lower than in 2019.
In 2021, despite measures to contain the coronavirus, production chains around the world continued to forge ahead and were barely able to meet the exceptionally high demand for products. In the course of 2021, most countries eased their restrictive measures, giving a huge boost to the economy and, by extension, to international trade: growth in export value in April 2021 (compared to April 2020) was the strongest ever at 25.7% (CBS, 2021a). High demand led to ever-rising prices. In addition, manufacturers passed on the exceptionally high energy and raw material prices in the output prices. As a result of these events, export prices in 2021 were as much as 10.1% higher than in 2020 and 6.0% higher than in 2019 (CBS, 2022a). After the severe contraction in Q2 2020, there was extremely strong growth in export value in the same period of 2021, but export value was also considerably higher in Q3 and Q4 than in the same period of 2020, as can be seen in Figure 3.2.1. In terms of volume development, growth in 2021 was clearly lower, which indicates high prices.
The extraordinary circumstances in 2021 pushed exports substantially higher than in previous years, to €586.6 billion. Export volume in 2021 was 8.9% larger than in 2020 and 6.6% larger than in 2019. The last time goods exports grew so strongly was in 2010, the year of recovery after the financial crisis.
Europe even more important as export destination in 2021
The share of total Dutch goods exports that went to Europenoot4 remained very stable in the period 2015–2021 (Figure 3.2.2). Almost every year, Dutch enterprises exported just over three-quarters of their goods to other European countries; in 2021 this share was 77.0%. The North America region’s share in Dutch export value ranged from 4.9 to 6.0% between 2015 and 2021. Exports to the East Asia region, which includes countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, are increasing in importance. From 2015 onwards, this share grew steadily each year to reach 7.0% in 2020, at the expense of the importance of exports to the other regions (Central and South America, Other Asia, Oceania, Africa). In 2021, the share of exports to East Asia, at 6.6%, was slightly lower than in 2020: the European market was somewhat more important that year.
|Jaar||Europe||North America||East Asia||Other|
Import value in 2021 nearly 25% higher than the previous year
Dutch importers bought nearly €527 billion worth of goods from foreign suppliers in 2021. Substantially higher import prices caused the import value to rise by 24.3% from the previous year (Figure 3.2.3 for the development per quarter). Imports grew by 14.5% (nearly €67 billion) compared to the pre-COVID year 2019. This meant that import growth exceeded export growth (13.8%) in 2021. A significant part of the price increase was a rise in the price of petroleum, particularly in the second half of 2021. This is partly the reason for the import value growing so fast in Q3 and Q4 of 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier. Growth in the volume of goods imports was smaller from Q2 onwards (whereas Q2 of 2020 recorded a major contraction).
It was not only disruptions in demand, the coronavirus crisis, shortages of critical components and sharply fluctuating petroleum and natural gas prices in 2020 and 2021 that caused disquiet in the production chain. Trade conflicts and Brexit also caused a decline in the stability of trade relations, as well as problems related to the availability of containers that had an upward effect on trade prices.
At €526.7 billion, imports were significantly higher in 2021 than in previous years. The volume of imports was 8.6% larger than in 2020 and 5.7% up compared to 2019.
East Asia less important as supplier of goods in 2021
The importance of Europe in total Dutch goods imports was stable at around 62% between 2015 and 2021 (Figure 3.2.4). Only 2020 was an outlier, with a smaller share of 60.2%. This decline in the importance of Europe as a supplier of Dutch imports is a direct consequence of the sharply lower crude oil prices on the global market, as the Netherlands mainly obtains petroleum from Europe (Norway, Russia and the United Kingdom). Imports from North America were slightly more than 8% of the total almost every year in the period 2015 to 2021. The East Asia region is more dynamic. The share of Dutch imports from this region was 13.1% in 2015 and, with a small interruption in 2018, it rose steadily to 15.6% in 2020. East Asia’s share decreased slightly to 14.8% in 2021. This was mainly due to more expensive petroleum coming from regions other than East Asia. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns may have influenced the declining importance of East Asia for Dutch imports in 2021. It may also in part be an indirect consequence of Brexit. In some cases, trade flows between Asian countries and the United Kingdom no longer pass through the Netherlands but go directly to their destination. The share of imports from the other regions (Central and South America, Other Asia, Oceania and Africa) has been stable over the years, at 15 to 16%.
|Jaar||Europe||North America||East Asia||Other|
The following two sections focus on the comparison between trade in 2021 and in the last pre-COVID year, 2019, and in some cases with 2015.
3.3Dutch exports of goods in detail
Machinery and equipment main product category for exports
Dutch goods exports had a total value of around €587 billion in 2021. This was 13.8% more than in the pre-COVID year, 2019. As in previous years, machinery and equipment were the main export product for the Netherlands. Figure 3.3.1 shows that there was growth in all product categories. Exports of the three largest product categories in particular have increased substantially in recent years: machinery and equipment, manufactured goods (e.g., clothing, paper and board, iron and metal products) and chemical products together accounted for almost 64% of total exports in 2021. This was 1.6 percentage points more than in 2019. Exports of chemical products (including medicaments, cosmetics and plastics) grew the fastest (by more than 26% between 2019 and 2021).
|Machinery and equipment||138.3||125.2||95.8|
|Food and beverages||74.8||69.5||58.6|
|Raw materials and natural products||37.1||29.6||26.7|
Significant growth in exports to Poland
As in previous years, Germany was the largest trading partner of the Netherlands, buying Dutch exports to a value of some €133 billion in 2021. This represents a 16.6% increase compared to 2019. The second and third-largest export partners of the Netherlands were Belgium (€63.0 billion, up by 21.0% growth) and France (€47.3 billion, up by 17.5% growth). Looking at the 15 largest export partners of the Netherlands in 2021 in Figure 3.3.2, we see that only the value of exports to the United Kingdom decreased compared to 2019. This is due to Brexit, which caused a sharp decline in the value of re-exports to that country, as already discussed in Chapter 2 of this publication (see also CBS, 2022b).
There was one change in the top 15 compared to 2019: Poland was the seventh-largest market for exports from the Netherlands in 2021, moving up one place. The country experienced strong growth of 36.9%. Spain dropped one place due to lower growth in export value from the Netherlands (18.1% growth compared to 2019). In 2021, Dutch enterprises exported goods to South Korea with a value almost twice as high as before the coronavirus crisis, for a total of €8.6 billion. The Netherlands mainly exported specialised machinery to South Korea. Nearly one-fifth of the export value of specialised machinery went to that country in 2021. As a result, South Korea was the second-largest buyer of this type of goods after Taiwan.
Half of exports go to top 5 partners
The top 5 export partners of the Netherlands together account for nearly 53% of total goods exports. Figure 3.3.3 shows the share of exports of the top 5 export markets for each product category. We see that for all product categories – except machinery and equipment and transport equipment – the top 5 markets represent more than 50% of the value. In other words, more than half of the export value of these product categories goes to the top 5 markets. Germany has the largest share in each product category; in raw materials and natural products and in mineral fuels, it even accounts for almost 30% of total export value.
|Germany||Belgium||France||United Kingdom||United States||Other|
|Machinery and equipment||24.1||8.5||10.0||9.2||7.8||78.7|
|Food and beverages||17.9||9.1||6.5||5.9||2.0||33.4|
|Raw materials and natural products||10.8||4.1||2.3||2.6||1.0||16.3|
Shares of domestic goods and re-exports stable
More than half of Dutch exports consist of goods manufactured in the Netherlands (Figure 3.3.4). With a share of 56.0%, the value of domestic exports was €328.5 billion in 2021. This share remained virtually unchanged between 2015 and 2021: domestic exports increased in proportion to re-exports. Re-exports of goods accounted for €258.1 billion in 2021. Re-exports are goods that are imported by an enterprise based in the Netherlands and then sold abroad after undergoing little or no processing.
Machinery and equipment make up the largest share of total Dutch exports, accounting for 23.6%. This is mainly due to the large share of re-exports. The Netherlands imports large amounts worth of chips and computers, as well as peripheral devices such as modems and routers from the East Asia region, which quickly leave the country in the form of re-exports. Manufactured goods also account for a relatively large share of re-exports; these goods also usually come from the East Asia region. Half or more of the exports of other product categories are manufactured in the Netherlands.
|Machinery and equipment||58.0||80.3|
|Food and beverages||53.2||21.6|
|Raw materials and natural products||26.2||10.9|
If we look at the 15 largest export markets and their shares in total exports, domestic exports or re-exports in Figure 3.3.5, it is striking that a large proportion of re-exports go to nearby countries: Germany (27.8%), Belgium (11.0%) and France (9.6%). The Netherlands acts as a logistics hub: goods arrive here (especially at the Port of Rotterdam) and are subsequently transported to their final destinations in other European countries. These countries are therefore more important in relation to re-exports than domestic exports. For example, 27.8% of re-exports go to Germany, while the country receives only 18.8% of total domestic exports from the Netherlands. Relatively large amounts worth of domestic goods are exported to the US and the UK. Geographically, the Netherlands is not a convenient distribution centre for the US, and because of Brexit, it is no longer a logical stop-over for the British either. Relatively few re-exports go to markets in Asia (China, South Korea and Taiwan); many of the goods destined for re-export actually originate from those trading partners.
Exports of petroleum and natural gas dominate
When we break down exports (re-exports and domestic exports) into more detailed product groupsnoot5, we see that petroleum and petroleum products are by far the most important product group for Dutch exports. In 2021, the trade value was €54.7 billion (Figure 3.3.6). However, the importance of petroleum and petroleum products as part of total exports was smaller, at 9.3%, than in 2019 (11.1%). The principal buyers of petroleum and petroleum products in 2021 were Germany, with an export share of 23.5%, and Belgium, with 14.5%. The five main customers further included the United States, France and Nigeria. It is striking that Nigeria is so important for the export of these goods: it is mainly important to the Netherlands as a supplier of crude oil because of the good quality of the oil. The country does not have any refineries, however, so a large amount of the oil extracted goes to the Netherlands for the production of high-quality petroleum products. A share of these petroleum products returns to Nigeria as petrol and diesel (see also Creemers & Draper, 2021). The export value of natural gas was also higher than ever in 2021. Compared to the pre-COVID year 2019, natural gas exports grew by 5.7 billion to a value of €14.7 billion. This growth was entirely due to price increases, as export volume fell during the same period.
Exports of specialised machinery, including chip-making equipment (lithography machines), civil engineering and contractors plant and equipment, and agricultural machinery, accounted for €29.7 billion in 2021. The share of total Dutch export value represented by specialised machinery is 5.1%. The East Asia region, including South Korea and Taiwan, is a crucial market for these goods, with an export value of €16.0 billion (53.8% of the total export value of these goods).
Fruit and vegetables mainly exported to neighbouring countries
Exports of fruit and vegetables were higher than ever in 2021, with export value up by 5.8% compared to 2019, at €20.0 billion. With an export share of almost one-third, Germany is the biggest buyer of fruit and vegetables. In 2021, fruit and vegetables worth €6.5 billion were exported to Germany. Belgium, with a 10.6% share, and the United Kingdom, with 8.4%, complete the top 3 for this product group.
Chips and semiconductors have become increasingly important for Dutch exports. With a value of €14.6 billion, they represented 2.5% of total exports in 2021. This is almost 23% more than in 2019, and had never before been so high. Poland in particular is an important market for chip exports, taking nearly one-sixth of the export value of this product category. It was also a record year for exports of flowers and plants in 2021. A slightly higher volume, combined with significantly higher output prices, boosted exports to €14.2 billion: 22.4% more than in 2019. A quarter of flower and plant exports went to Germany. The UK and France also have a large share in the export value of this product group, with 12.1 and 8.8% respectively.
|Petroleum and petroleum products||54.7||57.1||43.9|
|Fruit and vegetables||20||18.9||14.9|
|Plastics in primary forms||17.6||13.4||13.7|
|Medicinal and pharmaceutical
|Chips, semiconductor components, etc.||14.6||11.9||4.9|
|Flowers and plants||14.2||11.6||9.7|
|Medical instruments and
|Computers, laptops, tablets||11||9.8||8.7|
|Modems and routers, speakers, etc.||13||13||9.5|
|Iron and steel||8.1||9.5||9.5|
Quasi-transit trade mainly involves machinery and equipment
In addition to domestic exports and re-exports, there is also quasi-transit trade, in which goods are imported by a foreign enterprise and undergo little or no processing, after which they are re-exported abroad.noot6 The value of outbound quasi-transit trade was €122.6 billion in 2021. This is almost 4% more than in 2019. Figure 3.3.7 shows that foreign exporters mainly export substantial amounts of machinery and equipment such as consumer electronics via the Netherlands as quasi-transit trade (45.9% of the total value of outbound quasi-transit trade). These goods are mostly produced in East Asia and in most cases are then shipped via the Netherlands to European customers. Quasi-transit trade is not very lucrative: an average euro of transit trade generates only 1.3 euro cents for the Netherlands (CBS, 2021b). In comparison, re-exports earn 10 cents per euro of exports, and domestic exports earn 56 cents per euro. Additional information on this is provided in Chapter 6 of this publication.
|Machinery and equipment||56||48||45|
|Raw materials and natural products||6||5||4|
|Food and beverages||4||4||4|
3.4Dutch imports of goods in detail
One-quarter of imports consists of machinery and equipment
Dutch importers purchased goods abroad worth nearly €527 billion in 2021. This was a rise of 14.5% compared to 2019, when the value of imports was almost €460 billion. Machinery and equipment make up 24.7% of total import value, just slightly more than manufactured goods at 24.2% (Figure 3.4.1). Together, these two product categories therefore account for almost half of total imports. It is striking that imports of six of the seven product categories were higher than in 2019, but that imports of transport equipment (especially cars and car parts) in 2021 lagged slightly behind 2019. Cars were not always available in 2021 due to chip shortages and disruptions to production.
|Machinery and equipment||129.9||118.2||90.0|
|Food and beverages||49.3||45.8||39.8|
|Raw materials and natural products||29.1||22.8||19.8|
In addition to being our largest export market, Germany was also our main import partner in 2021 (Figure 3.4.2). Growth in the value of imports from Germany between 2019 and 2021, at 16.5%, also exceeded total growth in import value (14.5%). However, imports from China increased even more strongly between 2019 and 2021: Dutch imports from that country rose by more than 24%. This made China our second-largest import partner, with Belgium in 3rd place. Imports from the US and the UK did grow compared to 2019, but at 7.5 and 6.5% respectively, the increases were considerably less than average.
Imports less concentrated among top 5 origin countries
Imports by product category, as shown in Figure 3.4.3, are slightly less concentrated among the top import partners than among the export partners. The top 5 partners together accounted for 50% of total import value in 2021. Especially in the case of mineral fuels, food and beverages, and raw materials and natural products, the Netherlands has substantial imports from countries outside the top 5 (Figure 3.4.3). For example, we import relatively large amounts worth of food and beverages from Spain (4.7%) and Brazil (3.9%). Spain is the largest supplier of fruit and vegetables to the Netherlands. A relatively large share of raw materials and natural products, such as fruit juices, feeding stuff for animals and soya, comes from Brazil (6.0%) and Sweden (4.2%), including iron ore, cork, paper and wood. Significant shares of mineral fuels come from Russia (19.0%) and Norway (14.8%).
We also see that the top 5 import partners for the Netherlands play very varied roles. China, for instance, is a major supplier of manufactured goods, such as clothing, glassware and household goods and kitchenware (13.2%), and is even the most important partner for imports of machinery and equipment (23.2%). A large proportion of the goods imported by the Netherlands from China is ultimately destined for re-export (63.4% in 2020).noot7 China plays a much smaller role in the other product categories. Germany is the largest supplier of transport equipment (30.0%), which mainly concerns cars; chemical products such as medicaments and plastics (21.2%); food and beverages (dairy, meat, cereals, fruit and vegetables) (19.1%); raw materials and natural products (metal scrap and wood) (17.7%); and manufactured goods (19.4%), which include metal, iron and steel products, paper and paperboard. Belgium is the 2nd or 3rd import partner of the Netherlands for all product categories except mineral fuels and machinery and equipment. Large shares of goods imported from Germany (43%) and Belgium (40%) leave the Netherlands again in the form of re-exports.
|Germany||China||Belgium||United States||United Kingdom||Other|
|Machinery and equipment||20.7||30.1||4.9||10.2||4.1||59.8|
|Food and beverages||9.4||0.8||7.4||1.2||1.4||29.1|
|Raw materials and natural products||5.1||0.6||3.1||1.5||0.6||18.2|
Natural gas imports up by 82%
Crude oil and petroleum products are, as Figure 3.4.4 shows, by far the most significant group in Dutch goods imports. The import value was close to €60 billion in 2021, almost half of it crude oil. Virtually all imported crude oil is processed by Dutch refineries into petroleum products, the most import of which are petrol, diesel, kerosene and fuel oil. In 2021, Russia was by far the largest supplier of crude oil, with a share of 28.3%. This is twice the share of imports from the United States. The United Kingdom is the third-largest supplier, with a 13.4% share. Norway is in 4th place, with a share of 12.1%. In contrast, almost a quarter of petroleum products come from Belgium, followed by Germany and Russia.
The value of natural gas imports rose by 82.3% to €20.6 billion in 2021 compared to 2019. This increase is entirely attributable to particularly sharp rises in trade prices. The corresponding import volume decreased by 2.4%. A significant share of imported natural gas leaves the Netherlands as re-exports to other European countries. The Netherlands itself consumed less natural gas to generate electricity in 2021, and industrial users also purchased considerably less natural gas in the second half of 2021 (CBS, 2022c).
As with petroleum and natural gas, imports of chips and semiconductors grew strongly. In 2021, imports rose by €2.4 billion to €16.9 billion – an increase of 16.6%. East Asia in particular supplies a substantial share of the chips imported (30.8% of the import value of chips and semiconductors). The main chip-producing countries for Dutch imports are China, Malaysia and Costa Rica. Dutch traders subsequently sell many chips as re-exports to customers in other European countries.
Demand for computers, laptops and tablets continued to increase in 2021, with imports totalling €15.4 billion in 2021. This was almost 15% more than two years earlier. With a share of 37.0%, China is the main partner for Dutch computer imports. The United States (8.9%) and Taiwan (7.6%) are some way behind in 2nd and 3rd place. A large share of imported computers also have a final destination abroad in the form of re-exports.
The Netherlands imported clothing worth €15.3 billion. This was €1.5 billion (10.9%) more than in 2019. The main producers of clothing worldwide are China, Bangladesh and Turkey. Less than half of Dutch clothing imports stays in the Netherlands, while 68.9% (in 2020) is sent as re-exports to other countries, especially in Europe (see also Aerts et al., 2021). The Netherlands imported most clothing from Germany in 2021. The clothing imported from Germany is predominantly of Asian manufacture.
Car imports decline in 2021
At €9.9 billion, the import value of passenger cars in 2021 remained 11.6% below the 2019 level. After the drop in demand for cars in 2020, it was supply problems specifically that limited imports in 2021. Many car manufacturers saw their production process disrupted by a shortage of chips and global logistics problems. Chip manufacturers were unable to meet the increased demand partly because of the growing need for electric cars as a result of the energy transition. Many more chips are processed in electric cars than in vehicles that run on petrol or diesel. The lack of containers and coronavirus outbreaks in various countries put additional pressure on the logistics chain. Passenger car production therefore lagged behind in 2021 for various reasons.
|Petroleum and petroleum products||59.4||61.5||52.2|
|Chips, semiconductor components, etc.||16.9||14.5||4|
|Computers, laptops, tablets||15.4||13.4||10.2|
|Fruit and vegetables||12.8||12.1||9.8|
|Modems and routers, speakers, etc.||12.6||9.2||10.3|
|Iron and steel||11.4||9.3||8.3|
|Medicinal and pharmaceutical
|Medical instruments and appliances||9.7||8.5||5.4|
|Plastics in primary forms||7.2||5.6||5.1|
Quasi-transit trade mainly from East Asia
In 2021, the Netherlands imported €112.1 billion worth of inbound quasi-transit trade goods. This was €5.4 billion (5.1%) more than in 2019. Figure 3.4.5 shows that these imports mainly consisted of machinery and equipment (45.8%), which included computers and modems, and routers. The lion’s share of these products – 80.4% – comes from East Asia. The goods imported into the Netherlands are mainly destined for other European countries, especially Germany.
|Machinery and equipment||51||44||42|
|Raw materials and natural products||6||5||4|
|Food and beverages||4||4||4|
3.5Relative export performance of the Netherlands as a goods trader
The growth of Dutch exports is a crucial factor in assessing the country’s performance in export markets. Export growth, however, only paints a partial picture of our competitive position as an exporting country. It should not be viewed in isolation from the growth of our competitors’ exports in the world market or from the development of total global exports. Growth in our goods exports may be seen in a different light if growth in global exports is just as strong or even stronger. In this section, we therefore look at the relative export performance of the Netherlands using a Constant Market Share analysis.
Dutch exports grow relatively less rapidly than global exports
Figure 3.5.1 charts the development of Dutch, German and global goods exports since 1970. It shows that Dutch and German exports follow the patterns of global trade, but also that the goods exports of both countries did not grow as fast as global exports in the period 1970–2020. Furthermore, the periods of crisis (such as the 1980s and the financial crisis in 2008) are clearly recognisable, as are the years of economic prosperity.
It is not surprising that Dutch and German goods exports have grown more slowly cumulatively than global exports in the period 1970–2020, and it certainly does not mean that the Netherlands and Germany are performing poorly in terms of exports. Countries that showed stronger export growth in the period 1970–2020 are countries that hardly exported at all in the 1970s, such as China and South Korea, but that have since developed into major world players. We also see such developments in Europe. For example, the export growth of Portugal is also clearly above the growth curve of global trade.
The Netherlands and Germany have long been established trading nations. The fact that the development of Dutch exports has followed global exports very closely, despite the emergence of a number of major players, means that the Netherlands maintained its position as a prominent trading nation during the period 1970–2020. The share of Dutch goods exports in global exports has been fairly stable since 1970. Figure 3.5.2 shows that the Netherlands was responsible for 3.3% of global exports in 2020. This share is slightly lower than in 1970 (3.9%) but virtually the same as in 2000. Since 2000, the shares of many other countries, such as Germany, Japan and the UK, have declined more rapidly than that of the Netherlands. The Netherlands was the fifth-largest exporting country in 2020, after China, Germany, the US and Japan.
|Jaar||Netherlands||Germany||France||United States||Italy||United Kingdom||China||Canada||Japan|
For China, the picture is obviously very different. Chinese exports grew significantly faster than global exports and in 2020, China was unmistakably the world’s largest trading nation, accounting for 15.2% of total global exports. China’s export share has risen sharply since the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. This growth actually started in the early 1990s, mainly due to the gradual opening of Chinese markets by the government (Autor et al., 2021). Before that, the US and Germany (before 1990 the GDR and BRD together) were leaders in global exports for decades.
Constant Market Share analysis
Studying Dutch export growth, in specific products or to specific markets, is an interesting exercise, but not sufficient to say anything about the development of the competitive position of the Netherlands as an export country. After all, it offers no insight into the relative performance of the Netherlands as an export country compared to other countries. Take, for example, a fictitious situation in which Dutch exports to Germany increase by 8%. That may seem a lot at first sight. But if total German imports have increased by 12%, this puts the growth of Dutch exports to Germany in a different light. Growth in Dutch exports to a particular country may be accompanied by a loss of market share for the Netherlands in that same market. The Constant Market Share (CMS) analysis offers a solution by relating the growth of Dutch exports to the growth of global trade.noot8 The total shift in the share of Dutch exports in global trade (hereafter referred to as the total effect) is equal to the difference between the growth of Dutch exports and the growth of exports of the rest of the world excluding the Netherlands. A positive total effect means an increase in the share of total global exports supplied by the Netherlands; a negative total effect means a decrease in the market share of the Netherlands.
The total effect can be further broken down into a pure market share effect and what is called a structural effect or combined structural effect. The market share effect looks at the change in the Dutch market share in trade without taking into account shifts in the composition of Dutch exports. The structural effect shows which part of the total shift in the market share of the Netherlands in trade is due to the fact that the Netherlands has specialised more or less in specific product groups (the product effect) or destination markets (the geographic or country effect).
Slight decline in share of Dutch exports in global trade compared to 1970
Figure 3.5.3 shows the total effect and its components for the Netherlands and a number of reference countries: Germany, Belgium/Luxembourgnoot9, Portugal and Denmark. The figure again shows that Dutch exports grew less strongly in the years 1970–2020 than global exports. The same is true of exports from Germany, Belgium/Luxembourg and Denmark. Portugal is the only country in this selection that has seen its exports grow faster than the rest of the world. This is because Portugal still had relatively limited exports between 1970 and 1980, and only experienced a period of strong export growth in the 1980s (see Amador and Cabral, 2008, for details of developments in Portugal). By way of illustration, if China were to be included in this figure, the difference between the countries shown, including Portugal, would no longer be visible, because the total effects of these five countries would pale into insignificance next to the total effect of China.
The figure also shows that the Netherlands has performed well compared to its competitors, particularly over the last 20 years. Despite the strong advance of China, particularly in global trade, the total effect for the Netherlands has been roughly stable since 2000. This can be seen clearly if we replicate Figure 3.5.3 with the year 2000, the year before China joined the World Trade Organization, as the base year for the indices (Figure 3.5.4). Figure 3.5.4 shows that the line of the Netherlands constantly meanders around 100 and in recent years has even been slightly above that level. This means that the Netherlands has not lost any market share since China’s accession to the WTO and has even slightly increased its share in global trade recently. This is in contrast to Denmark and Belgium/Luxembourg, for example. However, this is not to say that these countries have lost market share to China; there may well be very different patterns underlying the decline.